The Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) has issued a directive stating that mobile number portability (MNP) must be introduced by 25 July, 2003.
After that date, users of mobile phones will be able to switch between the three national networks – Vodafone, O2 and Meteor – yet keep the same mobile number including the 08x prefix.
In an information notice issued on Friday, ComReg set out the requirements on mobile operators to have implemented a full commercial launch of MNP by 25 July.
“While ComReg was anxious to have the facility introduced earlier than this date, the mobile operators have informed us that despite a concerted effort on behalf of the industry, they cannot commit to a launch date for MNP before June 2003,” the notice read. “ComReg will continue to monitor the progress of industry in relation to the stated deadline through the industry Mobile Number Portability Committee and will work with the industry in the development of the product for launch at the earliest possible date.”
The lack of portability to date has been recognised as a strong deterrent for users to switch between networks and its arrival is seen as potentially of greatest benefit to the smallest player, Meteor.
Until the latter’s arrival two years ago, Vodafone and O2 had the market to themselves and were able to build up large customer bases. They now face a war of attrition on price – especially for voice services with Meteor, which is desperate to increase its market share, which is currently standing at between 3 and 4pc.
Speaking to siliconrepublic.com, Andrew Kelly, communications director at Meteor, said: “We have been working with Vodafone and O2 towards full MNP and we continue to support the launch of MNP in the Irish market at the earliest possible opportunity. But we see now reason why it should not be launched well in advance of 25 July and we would not support any moves that would delay it to that point.”
At the core of MNP is a central database of numbers that is required to match up each network with mobile numbers which are now prefix-independent, ie an 087 number won’t necessarily belong to a Vodafone customer.
In addition, each operator is having to develop its own system to talk to the central database and put new customer-facing processes in place to support MNP. It is understood that the system will involve a multi-million euro investment on the part of each of the three operators.
Kelly noted that the system would require rigorous testing prior to launch and would need to work flawlessly from day one. “If the system fails as a marketing and competitive tool it will be a dead duck in the water,” said Kelly.
He added that despite the project’s complexity preparations were very advanced and felt that MNP could be delivered well before 25 July.
The other two networks have publicly welcomed number portability saying that it would help boost competition but in private they are believed to be concerned about its potential impact on customer churn.
Since mobile phone penetration began to plateau last year and new customers became harder to find, holding on to existing customers has become a top priority for operators in Ireland and other maturing markets.
Commenting on the importance of MNP to competition in the mobile market, the chairperson of the Commission, Etain Doyle, noted: “The ability of Irish consumers to move mobile operator while keeping their existing number will have a huge impact on consumer behaviour in the mobile market. Customers will not have to incur extra costs or inconvenience while moving to the operator offering the lowest price while providing the highest quality of service. Mobile number portability is important to competition in this market.”
She acknowledged the technical work already completed by industry and the ongoing commitment of the mobile operators, but expressed regret that this service would not be available to the Irish public until mid-2003.
By Brian Skelly